Ravens news, notes and opinions on defensive line, Steve Smith, Ray Rice and more

June 23, 2014|By Jeff Zrebiec | The Baltimore Sun

The defensive line was supposed to be a major strength for the Ravens last year after they signed veterans Chris Canty and Marcus Spears and then used a third-round pick on Brandon Williams.

It didn't work out that way.

The group didn’t perform poorly by any means, but the defense finished 11th against the run and didn’t generate a lot of pass rush from the interior defensive line beyond the work of Arthur Jones.

Canty didn’t make a consistent impact, while Spears made no impact whatsoever and was promptly released. Williams struggled with a foot injury and to adjust to the NFL and was active for only seven games. Veteran Haloti Ngata, the anchor of the defensive line, also had a disappointing season by his standards.

So, it was hardly surprising to see the Ravens again address their defensive line this season. They used a second-round pick on defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and a fourth-round selection on end Brent Urban. They also knew that defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, who missed all of last season to rehabilitate a knee injury, was on pace for a healthy return.

The Ravens will surely miss Jones, who got a nice free-agent deal from the Indianapolis Colts. However, if the various minicamps are any indication, the Ravens defensive line could be formidable. Jernigan and Urban showed flashes of promise and Lewis-Moore looked ready to immediately contribute.

If Williams makes the expected strides in his second year and a better-conditioned and motivated Ngata plays closer to his ability, it could be a pretty formidable group.

** These next four weeks before training camp are a good time for players, coaches and executives to get some down time before the long grind of the football season officially begins. However, it also would be a good time for Ravens officials to take one more shot at trying to agree to contract extensions with a couple players.

The two who come to mind are wide receiver Torrey Smith and Ngata. Smith is entering the final year of his rookie deal. Ngata has two years remaining on his deal, but his salary cap hit is a team-high $16 million in each of the next two seasons. Both players have said that they don’t want to play anywhere else.

Again, just because both sides want deals doesn’t mean that it is easy to get them done. But the Ravens have a bit of salary cap room and no gaping holes on their roster. Securing the futures of Smith and Ngata in Baltimore are priorities for the organization. Now would be a good time.

** The signings of veteran cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Domonique Franks are no-risk moves that provide depth and options at what had been one of the Ravens’ thinnest positions. But I don’t view them as anything beyond that.

I still expect Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson, two players the Ravens have drafted and developed, to get every opportunity to win the No. 3 cornerback spot.

The Ravens very much believe in giving their own young players a chance before they look elsewhere. Ross and Franks are more insurance policies than a reflection of how team officials feel about the progress that Brown and Jackson have made. In fact, I see a scenario where barring injuries, Ross and Franks may be competing for one roster spot. That would obviously change if the two veterans clearly outperform Brown and Jackson in training camp.

** I can almost assure you that Steve Smith’s pushing match with Lardarius Webb last week, which Smith diffused the following day with a peace offering of a Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast, won’t be the last practice altercation that the veteran wide receiver gets involved in here.

By now, you’ve surely read or heard that Smith is a volatile, fiery and no-nonsense guy who draws a ton of motivation from perceived slights by others. As long as these altercations don’t become a daily occurrence or move beyond minor physical contract and idle threats, I have little problem with them.

The Ravens knew exactly what they were getting with Smith. They also know that several of their top offensive players are relatively reserved guys. An injection of attitude and toughness will help the group far more than it hurts.

** Strong-side linebacker Elvis Dumervil’s offseason weight gain -- which he says was intentional to help him hold up better in the physical AFC North -- is worth monitoring. His best asset as a pass rusher, after all, has always been his speed and explosiveness, two things that could be impacted by a little more bulk.

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